Miliband forgets name of Scottish Labour candidate

Labour leader refers to frontrunner Ken Macintosh as "the third candidate".

File this one under "embarrassing political videos." In a BBC interview this morning, Ed Miliband was unable to name all of the candidates for the Scottish Labour leadership (he should have read The Staggers).He correctly identified Labour MP Tom Harris and MSP Johann Lamont, but then referred to "the third candidate who is putting himself forward". The "third candidate" is Ken Macintosh, who, unfortunately for Miliband, is the bookies' favourite to win the election.

Miliband's gaffe is symptomatic of Labour's complacent attitude towards Scotland. In a leader published before the Scottish election last May, the NS warned Miliband not to underestimate the SNP and argued that it was a profound mistake to treat the contest as a referendum on the Westminster coalition. As we predicted, Alex Salmond's party went on to win a majority, an extraordinary feat given that the AMS voting system was adopted with the explicit intention of preventing any party from doing so.

Since then, support for the SNP has continued to surge, with polls putting them on 49 per cent in Holyrood (to Labour's 28 per cent) and 42 per cent in Westminster (to Labour's 33 per cent). Salmond's party has replaced Labour as the hegemonic force in Scottish politics. In the meantime, support for independence has reached its highest level for nearly three years, with 39 per cent of Scots in favour and 38 per cent opposed. For Labour, Scottish independence would be politically disastrous. It would deprive the party of 42 of its 256 Westminster seats in a single stroke.

For this reason, it is essential that Labour elects a leader capable of challenging Salmond, a brilliant politician and a formidable campaigner. How dispiriting then that Miliband appears so uninterested in the race.

Hat-tip: James Kirkup.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.